While routine safety mitigation measures should be considered and leveraged no matter where constituents are headed, destinations designated as higher-risk environments require thorough research, planning, and preparation before an organization commits to sending its travelers to such locations.
There are locations – even within developed countries – that can be recognized through a travel health and safety risk management lens as ‘last mile (km)’ destinations. Travel to and operational necessities in these types of environments require organizations to pursue even more thorough efforts in meeting their duty of care requirements. Pre-emptively acquiring, collating, and actioning such information can enable an organization and constituents to meet their mission objectives.
In this post, On Call’s Director of Security Services, R. Lyngdoh, reflects on some issues that can help organizations effectively facilitate discussions while conducting or planning operations in [high-risk or last mile (km)] (HRLM) destinations.
As part of an infrastructure assessment process in HRLM locations, organizations should investigate and address all available means of communication options. This ranges from active daily use considerations to emergency incident circumstances. Asking pertinent questions and seeking the necessary resources to communicate with travelers in HRLM locations, especially during an emergency, is critical during this phase. Varying methods of communication and fallback options are necessary to operate in these environments safely and successfully.
Due to a lack of infrastructure development, most HRLM locations often do not have reliable internet and telecommunication infrastructure, prompting unreliable mobile (cellphone) service or poor Wi-Fi connectivity. Utilizing satellite phones could be considered an option. However, it is worth noting that many countries have stringent laws surrounding the transport and utilization of satellite phones, particularly by outside organizations/personnel. It’s highly recommended to seek necessary operating permits from the relevant authorities and departments to utilize these types of resources.
Not only will travelers need to be able to communicate with one another while on a mission or assignment, but communication lines between individuals in-country and the organization’s headquarters should also be considered. For example, as observed in many HRLM areas, the authorities can turn off cellphone communication lines during an emergency, particularly if related to protest activities. Often overlooked, is that while cell phone data capability is turned off, the authorities will continue to allow at-home/office Wi-Fi connections, and personnel should be equipped accordingly. In these types of circumstances, creating communication windows and having multiple communication options can help facilitate lines of communication.
Communication is key and necessary, and organizations running HRLM operations should consider this critical aspect of operational risk management. Moreover, communication should not only consider the physical device aspects, but also the types of communication that need to be handled during an emergency. Should an emergency occur in an HRLM area, an organization could pre-emptively develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) whereby someone is already tasked and designated as being the person to communicate and liaise with impacted constituents’ family members.
It is also recommended that organizations put their communication systems and SOPs to the test periodically.
Regardless of the duration of the stay, reliable access to funds for daily and operational expenses should be a priority for any organization operating in HRLM areas. Varying factors can pose potential difficulties for constituents trying to access cash or conduct financial transactions. ATMs (if they exist) may be monitored by opportunistic thieves; such incidents occur more frequently than acknowledged. Furthermore, in many HRLM areas, credit and debit cards are often not accepted, and the ability to pay by digital payments such as PayPal or Venmo are also unavailable. This poses a challenge as constituents stationed in such areas will need access to local currency and banking facilities. One potential solution is to provide travelers with contact information for pre-vetted, reputable banks in-country, with trusted contacts at said institutions to help set up accounts and conduct transactions safely. On a larger scale, if an organization needs to deposit or withdraw large sums of money regularly, they should ensure they have pre-identified secure methods to carry out these transactions, such as leveraging the services of an assets/cash/valuables in-transit company.
Cash-on-hand should be considered as an option for emergencies. These can either be given to respective employees for safekeeping or be accessible by identified personnel in a common area. Such an option requires stringent protocols and a due diligence process to ensure that no untoward incidents occur. Nevertheless, finances and the ability to access and utilize funds in a timely and efficient manner, for all potential circumstances, should provoke increased deliberation within organizations as related to operational risk management in HRLM areas.
Corruption and Bribery
Operating in HRLM destinations can mean constituents may encounter circumstances where, manifestly, or latently, bribes or corrupt practices are expected. Some potential questions worth asking therein could include:
Is there a history of bribery and corruption in the location?
If so, what is the organization’s comfort level with this type of practice?
Does the organization already have anti-corruption policies and procedures in place regarding how constituents should react when faced with such situations?
Have these policies been audited recently, or do they need revision considering any recent changes on the ground?
Is it plausible to expect constituents to operate in such locations without paying forward a ‘gift’, and are they committed to abiding by the organization’s policies?
Deviation from the prescribed norm has the potential to surface economic and reputational risks. It would be prudent for organizations as such to consider the need to educate employees as appropriate to the issue.
Usually, HRLM environments have underdeveloped infrastructure that can significantly exacerbate an emergency, particularly if pre-emptive mitigation steps have not been implemented. Unpaved roadways, for example, make traveling even short distances much more time-consuming and far more perilous than anticipated. In some instances, public transit can be unsafe or even nonexistent.
Any travel in HRLM, no matter how short a period, should involve careful route planning and preparation. This is to avoid known hotspots along routes and potential risks therein. To note, the shortest route to a location may not necessarily be the safest way to go, especially in these types of environments. Pre-emptively considering details such as the day of the week, time of day, and updated on-the-ground information, in addition to creating communication windows, can serve constituents well before departure from local accommodations or meeting locations when operating in HRLM with infrastructure development issues.
Organizations should further consider how relevant respective infrastructural sectors, or lack thereof (roads, public transit options, hospitals, communication services, access to reliable supplies – food, water, fuel, electricity, etc.), could exponentially intensify following an emergency, either manmade or natural. If this is the case, organizations should consider whether they have the risk appetite and/or capabilities to address such potential emergencies, after the fact.
Even if an organization has never faced an emergency while operating in an HRLM destination, it is prudent to avoid complacency and ensure crisis response plans are continually being audited, enhanced, up-to-date, and relevant to the current operating conditions. As industries originate or evolve, seeking resources and engagements in new HR and/or LM locations, opportunities do indeed exist but so do the risks. Organizations should consider what traveling/operating in such locations – while keeping duty of care responsibilities in mind – entails. Keeping such perspectives in mind can help reduce risk exposure to an organization and its constituents.
For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global emergency assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.